A Grammatical Analysis for Children
The word like serves as seven of the parts of speech. The only function it doesn’t serve? It isn’t a pronoun. But it does cover the other seven.
Like as a Verb
If your children ask about the correct meaning of like, point out that it serves as a verb, all by itself. Your children can say, “I like waffles” or “I would like another serving.”
Like as a Preposition
Point out that it also serves as a preposition and in that capacity hooks nouns to sentences. Your children can say, “He runs like the wind.”
Indeed, go ahead and point out that to be can join like if they truly want to show what something or somebody was like.
Thus the commercial “I want to be like Mike” has its grammar in order.
So does “He was like a father to me.”
But virtually everyone addicted to the like word uses it to show not what something is like but what something actually is. They use it to show identity (is), not similarity (like): He’s like tall. Well, is he or isn’t he?
Like as a Noun
You can also point out that like serves as a noun, as in likes and dislikes.
Like as an Adjective
The word spans almost all parts of speech and can serve as an adjective (she mastered lacrosse, field hockey, and like sports).
Like as an Adverb
Informally, like can serve as an adverb (the tree is more like 100 than 50 feet).
Like as a Conjunction
Here we stir up a hornet’s nest. According to some sources, the word like can also act as a subordinating conjunction.
Charles Darwin wrote in 1866: “Unfortunately few have observed like you have done.” New Fowler, p. 458.
Consider the words of Random House:
Like as a conjunction meaning “as, in the same way as” (Many shoppers study the food ads like brokers study market reports) or “as if” (It looks like it will rain) has been used for nearly 500 years and by many distinguished literary and intellectual figures. Since the mid-19th century there have been objections, often vehement, to these uses. Nevertheless, such uses are almost universal today in all but the most formal speech and writing. In extremely careful speech and in much formal writing, as, as if, and as though are more commonly used than like: The commanding general accepted full responsibility for the incident, as any professional soldier would. Many of the Greenwich Village bohemians lived as if (or as though) there were no tomorrow. Random House, p. 1114.
Other sources fervently disagree with this loose approach. Mr. Fowler himself minced no words:
Every illiterate person uses this construction daily . . . . New Fowler, p. 458.
The Oxford English Dictionary notes that examples of the use of like as a conjunction do appear in the works of “many recent writers of standing” but also points out that such use is “generally condemned as vulgar or slovenly . . . .” Quoted in New Fowler, p. 458.
Click page 2 below .... Like as a Conjunction: Four Uses
New Fowler examined the works of leading writers in England, America, and other countries, and identified four situations where they use like as a conjunction:
1. The If you knew Susie Exception: Repeat the Verb
In the subordinate clause, writers often repeat the verb appearing in the main clause. They introduce the subordinate clause with like:
I need a new car like I need a hole in the head. —E. Good, 2001.
If you knew Susie like I know Susie . . . .
New Fowler’s Comment: “[This construction] must surely escape further censure or reproach.”
The following examples and comments appear in New Fowler, p. 458.
2. To Replace As If or As Though
It looks like it’s still a fox. —New Yorker, 1986.
3. The Like I said Exception
Substitutes for as in “fixed, somewhat jocular, phrases of saying and telling . . . .”
Like you say, you’re a dead woman. —M. Wesley, 1983.
4. To Make Comparisons
Used in the same way as “in the manner (that)” or “in the way (that).”
How was I to know she’d turn out like she did? —C. Burns, 1985.
As a budding grammarian, you should know of this battle. At Bubba’s you can easily get away with like as a conjunction. But in formal settings—the faculty lounge, scholarly writing (and talking), your master’s thesis—you should use the traditional conjunctions as, as if, and as though. In the words of New Fowler:
It would appear that in many kinds of written and spoken English like as a conjunction is struggling towards acceptable standard or neutral ground. It is not there yet. But the distributional patterns suggest that the long-standing resistance to this omnipresent little word is beginning to crumble. New Fowler, p. 459.
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